Cynos Union Databank

 

 

1: A Glitch In Space

“What the hell could have caused that?” whispered Professor Howard Dyer, to no-one in particular. All those months ago, when he’d started this little investigation, he had never expected to come across something like this.

It had started eight months ago, with a glitch in one of the conjugates, the vast, transgalactic gateways linking the Cynos Union together. This particular one was to be found within territory held by the Grand Sookas Dynasty, the reptilian empire that controlled their sector of space with an iron claw.

It wasn’t a particularly well-travelled conjugate, but at the time the glitch had happened, dumb luck had dictated that of course a ship would be travelling through it. The ship, a mid-sized, sookas-owned freighter transporting research equipment to the planet Akaresk, had emerged unscathed at the other end of the conjugate, in the Gakaralog system, but it had been a close-run thing; quantum eddies within the conjugate’s phase-bridge had almost pushed the ship back into phase with the material universe, mid-voyage.

It would be more accurate to say that they’d almost pushed parts of the ship back into phase, while leaving other parts out of phase, a process that would have had the same effect on the ship as hitting an egg with a moderately-sized planet.

Naturally, the Grand Sookas Dynasty wanted answers.

Arrogant, angry, imperialistic lizards though the sookas were, the species did still have the capacity for pragmatism. They were still part of the Cynos Union, after all, and the conjugates came firmly under the remit of galactic community.

A small team had been despatched to the Gakaralog system, a handful of people rated as some of the best conjugate engineers in the galaxy. They searched every line of code in the conjugate’s operating system, while maintenance drones scurried over the vast construct, examining every part of its hardware, every solar panel and extruded plate.

They found precisely nothing.

But then another conjugate had glitched, and this time, the ship inside the phase-bridge hadn’t been so lucky. What emerged from the other end certainly couldn’t be described as a starship any longer; starships in normal service tended not to take the form of a rapidly expanding cloud of molten metal with a few distressingly organic trace elements in it. The team of engineers was immediately redirected. Once again, they found no errors in the conjugate’s control code, and no hardware defects.

This time though, by sheer happenstance, one of the engineers had chanced upon an intriguing sensor recording from one of the conjugate’s maintenance drones. She hadn’t meant to, of course; she’d been compiling data from the maintenance drone in question, and had put in the wrong date. Instead of checking the sensor recordings from its current trip around the vast conjugate station, which hung in space like a giant horseshoe a thousand miles across, it had given her the sensor readings from the day of the glitch.

It instantly caught her eye. Hidden among the data, one entry noted a gravitational anomaly, a flickering of local gravity, timestamped as happening at the exact moment the glitch had taken place. So, naturally, she’d then checked the other maintenance drones stationed there.

Every single one of them had registered the anomaly.

Immediately, the engineer had queried the maintenance drones stationed at the Gakaralog conjugate, and the same disturbing picture had emerged. The glitch hadn’t been inside the conjugates.

The glitch was in space itself.

Conjugates were noted for running on the very cusp of a catastrophe curve. They worked on the principle of balance. Staggeringly powerful forces were at play, in order to maintain an out-of-phase corridor that linked two points in space, thousands of light years apart. Weapons fire within a conjugate’s phase-bridge could destabilise it to the point of collapse of course, dooming any ship inside, but the point was that in normal operation, no one force was strong enough to tip the conjugate out of its safe operating parameters.

Unless local gravity suddenly changed, of course…

Fortunately, however, the tale had a happy ending. Conjugates were ludicrously sensitive to sudden gravitational disruptions, but this particular anomaly, in the grand scheme of things, was tiny. It was easy enough to write a software patch, so that if any other conjugates experienced the same thing, they could compensate, and there would be zero disruption to their service.

No more ships would be rendered down to their constituent atoms, which is generally considered to be a plus.

The software update was pushed out to every conjugate on the network and that was that. The engineers moved on, the public forgot about it, and life went back to normal, the whole episode written up as being just another day in the life of the Cynos Union.

* * *

The story would have ended there, if it hadn’t caught the eye of Professor Dyer. Around a month after the incident itself, he’d been talking to one of his colleagues, catching up on the latest news from around the campus of Kanon-Etude University on Polyphony. As Dyer was an astronomer, the chat inexorably turned toward the topic of what had become known as the conjugate wobbles.

Dyer didn’t know what it was, but something about the story piqued his interest. Perhaps it was simply his innate scientific curiosity; right here, in front of him, was a mystery waiting to be solved. He felt investigative instincts kicking in, instincts that he’d almost forgotten he had.

And so Professor Dyer, a man in his fifties who was charitably described as ‘portly’, and not so charitably described as ‘that fat, wheezy bastard’ by certain members of the faculty, had started his months-long quest to understand the anomalies that had played merry hell with two separate conjugates, and had claimed the lives of one ship’s crew.

Through his position at Kanon-Etude University, he was able to collect sensor data from the conjugates, and begin his search for other instances of the huge gateways being hit by similar anomalies. It took seven months to fully understand the results, and what they suggested shocked Dyer to his very core.

Firstly, every single conjugate in that sector of space had been hit by similar anomalies; Gakaralog had merely been the first, and in the month that followed, more and more conjugates had picked up the same gravitational distortion.

Secondly, they were not isolated incidents.

The more Dyer looked, the more he found that there was a pattern to them. It was as if the anomalies were moving outwards in a vast ring that grew bigger every day. The realisation hit Dyer with the force of a rapidly moving comet.

What he was looking at was not a collection of gravitic anomalies. It was one anomaly, vast in scale and growing ever bigger, and it looked like…

“What the hell could have caused that?” whispered Professor Howard Dyer, to no-one in particular.

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